William B. Wright
Weirton, West Va.
Man generally looks back to another generation, or forward to a generation yet unborn, or to some distant location, and says, "If I had been there, I would not have done that." Yet, when confronted directly with some difficult problem, he does act as others have and as others will. When the problem becomes personal, his courage often fails, or anger takes possession of him, or his own personal immediate interests govern his conduct.
What Jesus Said
Jesus very clearly set forth what men will do in such circumstances. He said (Matt. 23: 29-36):
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye build the sepulchers of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of her? Therefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify; 7 and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar.
Joseph and His Brothers
Suppose someone had approached Joseph's brothers and said, "Would you have killed Abel ff you had been in Cain's place?" I have no doubt they would have vehemently denied that they would have done so. Yet, faced with Joseph, a righteous brother, one who seemed to be a thorn in their side, several of them sold him into slavery and were even willing to kill him.
Saul and David
What do you suppose would have been the answer of King Saul had he been asked ff he would have sold Joseph into slavery? "No, of course not!" he would probably have replied. But Joseph was not his problem. His problem was David, a man more righteous than himself, and a contender for this throne. So, King Saul tried to kill David. (1 Sam. 19:1-24 and following chapters)
Joash and Zachariah
Do you suppose King Joash would have been so different from the average that he would not have tried to kill David had he been in the shoes of King Saul? Do you suppose he would have answered, "Yes," if someone had asked him, "Would you have tried to kill David?" He would probably have denied any such thing. But his problem was not David; it was Zachariah the son of Barachiah. When he was faced with this servant of God he had him killed. (2 Chron. 24:20-22) Why? Because Zachariah was an evil man? No! Because Zachariah spoke the truth of God to him and he did not want to hear it.
Scribes and Pharisees
It appears that the scribes and Pharisees, both by words and by monuments, were vigorously asserting that they would not have killed the prophet Zachariah or other prophets. But Zachariah and other of the prophets posed no problem for them. They buried the prophets' writings in traditions and obscured the prophets' words by the lives that they lived. But Jesus promised them an opportunity to prove that they were different from their fathers. He would send them prophets and wise men and scribes. He assured them they would scourge, persecute, kill, and crucify just as their ancestors had done. Did they? They certainly did. Read what happened to Peter and John (Acts 3), Paul (Acts 21-28; 2 Cot. 11-23-28), and Stephen (Acts 7).
The Restored Church
In the restored church of the New Testament in the 19th Century, men such as Isaac Errett, W. K. Pendleton, and J. H. Garrison would have certainly denied that they would have killed and persecuted and scourged and crucified the disciples that Christ sent, personally, to teach. But Peter, Paul, James, and Stephen presented no problem to them. They obscured, in semantics, the clear teachings of the New Testament concerning the nature of the church and its true work, and did as they pleased. The master thorn in the side to them was old brother David Lipscomb (not really so old when he was their contemporary). Brother Lipscomb revered the words of God and read and spoke them without addition and' subtraction. So Errett and his kind used every word known to journalism to try to put David Lipscomb out of business as a religious writer and journalist. But, thank God, they failed.
The Twentieth Century Church
Today men at least pretend to revere the memory of David Lipscomb for his great contributions to the defense of pure New Testament Christianity. But, at the same time, they strive to destroy by cancellation of meetings, whispering campaigns, distortion of facts, and similar unchristian acts the men who are true spiritual descendants of David Lipscomb. No doubt they do not consider themselves in the same category as Errett and his company of digressives.
What this all amounts to is that men far removed from the scene by time and/or distance are emotionally detached from the problem and its consequences and are, therefore, better able to judge than when they are emotionally and personally involved. To be emotionally detached one need not be a generation, or a hundred years, or two thousand years removed from the event. Even geographical distances may serve the same end. If our own son, or the boy next door, is killed in Viet Nam, it is a tragedy. If it is the son of an unknown parent a thousand miles away it simply passes us by as another statistic.
How Detached Should We Be?
Members of the church look at a church sponsored kindergarten or a church sponsored stage play one hundred or one thousand miles away and say, "It is not our problem here. It is none of our business to interfere in other congregations. We have our work to do here." It is true that we should not meddle in things which do not concern us. It is also true that we have our own' work to do. But error is error and truth is truth. So we have a most solemn obligation to speak the whole truth and to condemn all error known to us regardless of where it occurs. But instead, we persecute men who point out error or ignore them or cancel their meetings or whisper, "They are a little extreme." If a church of Christ introduced the organ into its worship, would we say it is not our problem? Would we forbid the preacher to speak out against it? Would we talk to the evangelist before the meeting starts to insure that he "will cause us no trouble" about the use of the instrument in worship elsewhere?
The Same Principle
In principle those who travel this path are very little different from the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. While they do not, literally kill and crucify and scourge, they nonetheless ask each preacher to promise to say nothing on some subjects or they cancel his meeting, or fire him, or do not hire him, etc. Thus, if he has faith and courage, they take away his livelihood. Is this persecution? The question for us is, What would WE really have done had we been in the days of our fathers?
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 33, pp. 11-12
June 25, 1970